In a Stew

A lot of memories of growing up seem to have food in them.  I guess because most of our socializing was done over a cup of tea, or a meal, or even a community supper.  We used to say that we had to eat in shifts because the table wasn’t big enough for everyone to gather round at once, was nothing at my place to have 8 or 10 around at meal time.

Nowadays when anyone says stew, you usually think of beef in the slow cooker with a thick broth and big chunks of vegetables.  But growing up, when we had stew, it was usually stewed fish, or stewed salmon or stewed beans.

Here in Nova Scotia if I mention stewed beans to people they have no clue what I am talking about, all they know are baked beans. I never cared for baked beans, but stewed beans, YUM!

The picture on the left comes from a Newfoundland Recipes site (click it to go there), but isnt quite like what I was used to.  Similarly it was white naval beans, soaked for a while, and also an onion, but we’d use salt beef instead of salt pork.  When cooked up so the beans were soft yet firm and holding their shape it was delicious, even more so with a bit of ketchup.

Then there is stewed cod and stewed salmon, both are the same recipe, just replace the fish.  The recipe I linked to here has carrot and uses broth, but what I had growing up just had potato, water, fish and onion.  And of course substituting salt beef for salt pork. I don’t think we precooked the cod or onions either like the recipe says, but I’m sure either way is delicious.

Simple meals, but a taste of home and of growing up, and something I still like to have today.

Tastes of Old

Nowadays we have foods we never heard of (and likely would have been wary to taste) when we were young kids.  I mean in the early 70’s who had heard of butter chicken? Or Shrimp Pad Thai? We get foods and flavours from all over the world now, and we are better for it of course.

But there are some meals we don’t have, or at least I don’t, anymore. Or if we do its very rare.  That in some cases may be for the best, but I’m sure I’m not alone in remembering eating catsup (and yes it used to be spelled that way on some bottles at least) sandwiches.

Another favorite of mine was franco-american spaghetti (not Heinz, that was like crap, and not spaghetti-o’s, the sauce tasted different, yes I was picky).  But not just from the bowl, what was even better was to pour the hot spaghetti on a slice of toast!

I also loved, and still do, meatballs and gravy, tho I hate gravy (I told you I was odd).  I really can’t say the gravy from those tastes anything like gravy though.

I also used to love hazelnut spread on toast (nutella? not sure that was the brand back then), but my sister has a nut allergy and not sure I’ve had that since I was about 10! I should try some someday, tho the memory is probably better.

We also used to use the pressure cooker a fair bit back then, and I’ve not seen one of those used in years.  And before the days of the home coffee maker, we had the coffee percolator on the stove.  That stuff was tasty!

I can remember now the old folks asking if you’d have a cup of tea in your hand, and proceeding to pour their tea into their saucer and drink from that.  And of course a cup of tea meant more than tea, there was cake, cookies, and a dish of jam, often eaten with a spoon rather than on bread.

Ah memories!

Da worst ting about smokin fish….

Is keepin ’em lit!

I know I know, bad joke!  But was thinking about years back and how lots of fishermen’s stages had a smoker on the side of them.  I don’t recall any ever in use, but Roy’s stage back in Apsey Brook had one, and was often a good spot to hide when playing hide and seek. It was just a tin lined “chimney” with nails sticking out going up the sides.  Roy, and of course whoever else used them would hang caplin or herring up in them, light a fire at the bottom, generally with alder wood, and smoke them to make… well smoked caplin and kippers!

I love the taste of smoked fish of all varieties, and when we got a little older, Eric and I bought a little electric smoker between us.  Had a little element in the bottom with a small pan, and we’d add wood chips and let them smolder to smoke our own kippers, and lots of other things, but mostly trout and our own moose and beef jerky!

We could buy all kinds of chips, and of course get our own alder, and sometimes apple and others.  We’d experiment with making different brines to add different flavours (hmmm did I ever tell the story of “Who put the salt in the punch?”) and smoke lots of different things, including trying cheese on one or two occasions.

Junior Patey used to love trouting, but he was never really find of the trout, so he’d freeze a lot for his family, but one day he tried the smoked ones Eric and I made, and he loved them, and whats not to love? Its like fish bacon!  Anyway, over the next few weeks he emptied his freezer of trout and smoked them all!

I know Eric still smokes stuff now, and I do too, tho for me its smoking bought stuff as there’s not many trouting holes here in the city (plus I have no idea if half these weird fish up here are fit to eat anyway, I liked that we had trout and only trout back home).  Eric sent me up some jerky he made last year, and I think it lasted all of 20 minutes, cause I was sparing it along!

Anyway, keep yer fish lit, and have a smoky ole day!

Sweet Leaves, Frankum, and Spruce Buds

Sweet Gale

The other night I had a memory of being on the grass on Celie Burt’s garden in Elliott’s Cove, with Tony Burt I believe, but that part of the memory is foggy.  Its my most vivid memory of eating something we all ate as kids I’m sure; sweet leaves.  Eric and I were trying to figure out what they officially are named earlier, and thought they might be Sweet Gale, but that grows up to a meter high and that doesn’t sound right, but maybe so.

We used to chew them up and they had a delicious sweet taste, that I do remember, and we spent a lot of time pulling them out and getting that sweet juice.

Another thing I’ve had occasionally, and came back to me with the same memory, and I’m sure others have had even more frequently is the soft new growth that pops out from the spruce buds in the spring of the year.  I’ve read it’s good in salads, and can be brewed into spruce beer.  I’ve had both (the growth and the beer) and while one may be derived from the other, I’m not sure what I had was, as the beer was disgusting, while the buds weren’t that bad!

Lastly there’s frankum.  I doubt many of the young people now have had it, or even heard of it, but the older generation used it like chewing gum.  Its the hardened resin from a spruce tree, and Dad used to cut it off and trim off the bark, and start chewing it.  Its a bit hard to get going, and tastes a bit barky till you get it going, but its not that bad!  The worst part is if you didn’t get a nice hard piece, you ended up putting raw sticky resin in your mouth, not a pleasant experience!

The First Pizza

Growing up back home, pizza was a foreign commodity, we’d heard of it, but there was none around Clarenville at all.  The only pizza we saw were the (I think) chef boyardee pizza kits, with a can of sauce and dough mix that was never big enough to cover the pan and some herbs to throw on, and a little (again i think) parmesan cheese.


It tasted exactly unlike anything pizza was supposed to taste like.  Of course we needed toppings, so seeing as we’d also never seen salami or pepperoni, we used the next best thing….. vienna sausages!  if you’ve never had these wondrous little delicacies, well then don’t.  They are one of the most horrendous products ever made in my opinion, though of course I know many people who love them.  I remember making someone, I think it was Tina Cooper, though that may have been dill pickle chips, throw them out the window of the car when they opened them, saying either the sausages went or they did. The smell is disgusting!  The only way I could manage them at all was to fry them up, not sure how anyone was able to eat the raw…. but I digress.  On those old pizza kits we’d slice these up as our pretend pepperoni, and throw the whole works in the oven.  It of course tasted nothing at all like pizza.

My first real pizza wasn’t eaten till I was 16 or 17, and in St. John’s starting at the College of Trades and Technology.  I decided to try it and went to Mr. Jim’s in Churchill Square, and sat down.  A waiter or waitress came and asked me what I’d like, and having no idea what any of these foreign sounding things were, I ended up with a cheese pizza.  Needless to say, after burning my mouth on melted cheese, and having no toppings, I was a little underwhelmed.

But that was the first real pizza, other than the kits.  I can still see those on the shelf at the CO-OP in my minds eye now!

The Seal

So Pam Anderson was back home yesterday, offering money for people to stop sealing.  People seem to fail to understand that the seal hunt isn’t clubbing babies anymore.  Its as humane as any hunt can be, and more so than any slaughterhouse.  Yes seal furs are used for clothing, but so is cow leather.  Seals are over populated and threatening fish populations, noone mentions that. Nor that they provide a source of food.

But anyway, this isn’t a political blog (and I’m not going to allow hate filled comments here either), its memories.

Seals weren’t that common back home, at least not right up in the sound, but they weren’t that uncommon either.  And anyone who’s seen a big old harp up close, snarling and trying to get at you isn’t going to say they are very cute either.  But they are some damn good eating!

Once many years ago, Eric and, I believe, Cory Avery encountered one on the beach in winter in just such conditions.  Perhaps they were looking for it, I forget, but I believe one of them had a license and they managed to kill it.  Once they did that though I think they were stumped as to what to do next.  None of us were squeamish about cleaning things, and that was done pretty promptly, but they really had no idea how best to cut or process it.

If I remember correctly they came to Dad, and he gave them some advice. I’m not sure how much Eric and Cory ate, if any, but I know Dad and I had a few good meals from it.  I love the taste of seal, reminds me a great deal of the taste of turr, but if it gets any blubber on it during the cooking it can ruin it.  I think this is why a lot of people don’t care for it.

Dad had some trick of soaking it in water and baking soda though, and that somehow made the blubber crystallize, and it could be separated easily. But the biggest memory was  that Eric and I used Dad’s old band saw to slice the frozen meat.  If you didn’t like seal before that I’m sure you wouldn’t after.  Seal sawdust has quite a pungent smell!


Bonfire Night

Tuesday is Bonfire Night! Guy Fawkes night for some, though I can’t remember ever, as a kid, knowing what bonfire night represented except a good time!  I don’t think the tradition is as strong as it once was.  When I was a teen, we’d have been cutting trees for months, I remember one year starting in August!

We’d gather them, and anything else we could burn, boats, driftwood, garbage, pretty much anything.   Come supper time on the 5th, we’d light it up, keeping much off to one side to keep it going all night. Many times we’d have enough fuel to restart it from its coals the next night and do it all again.  Old tires had to be a favorite to burn for sure, they’d burn and pop, and stink everything up, and turn us all black with soot, but we had a ball.  Off to one side we’d have smaller camp fires to roast potatoes, wieners, marshmallows, and maybe some less traditional roasting foods, like kippers!

I remember many if not most of our fires were on the beach.  I remember one year in particular it being down on McGrath’s Cove below Colin Miller’s house, and us getting up on the bank to watch. I think i remember Rick throwing a bag full of aerosol cans in that one, for our own form of fireworks.  The beach was covered in shaving cream!

As we grew up, most of us stopped the smaller community fires and many of us would gather and help at the one on Randall’s garden in Snook’s Harbour.  I remember the huge piles of brush and tires. It was also fun to look up and down the sound in the night and see the fires in Georges Brook, Harcourt and Monroe.

I think though the best memory has to be the time there was an empty propane tank on the fire, and Gar Whelan risked life and limb to run into the fire and yank it out before it exploded!

Many “beverages” were consumed, and often the police were there too, though they never interfered, or stopped us from having our “beverages” in public.  I do think they got too close one year and the paint on the door melted a bit!  Though perhaps that was someone else’s car, memories run together as you get old.

The link below is to a video on Memorial University’s site.  Have a watch, and feel the memories flood back.

Bonfire Celebration in Brigus, Newfoundland

Hope you all have a great bonfire night!

The Fair

The fair back home means only one thing, Thomas Amusements.  When I was younger I’m pretty sure there was a second one too; maybe Kavanaugh, Kincaid?  I forget for sure.  In any event, for many, less so me, it was a highlight, or two depending on how often they came to town, of summer.

These travelling amusement parks always reminded me of the stories of Gypsies.  They’d seemingly appear overnight in a parking lot, and set up rides, games, cotton candy, candy apples, and who knows what else.  One year though there were bumper cars, I did love those!

I was never a fan of the rides, they always were spinning things that just made me nauseated, not happy!  But the treats were good, fries in the old gray carton, eaten with a toothpick and black malt vinegar, cotton candy, etc.

Also some of the games were fun, if nearly impossible to win.  Spin the wheel, knock over the milk cans, ring toss, etc.  I remember once winning a little blue lantern on something, and several stuffed toys.

As I got older, the luster seemed to wear off for me anyway, and I can’t say I find it enjoyable anymore, but they were definitely a huge memory of boyhood 🙂

The Pop Shoppe

Over the weekend, my buddy Bernard and I were discussing a memory of growing up in pretty much anywhere in small town Canada. For people of my generation, a trip to The Pop Shoppe was a fun and regular occurrence.  Unlike traditional pop, and before the time of so many store brand pops, there was The Pop Shoppe.

The Pop Shoppe back home, was, at least the only occasion I remember, down on Memorial Drive in Clarenville, just about right across from the medical center.  There was a hair salon in the same building in later years.

They operated on an interesting business model, franchising stores to people, and selling their own product in refillable, returnable glass bottles.  You’d get your product in cases of 24 and once done you’d return your bottles and get your deposit back or put towards your new case.

What was best about it though for the kid in me, was the assortment of flavors.  There were the usual copy cat ones, Cola, Lime Rickey, Root Beer, Sparkle Up, but by far the best, and maybe the best pop ever was Black Cherry.

Stubby Beer Bottle

Atlantic Superstore here used to sell a store brand black cherry flavor, but its no longer available, and while The Pop Shoppe has been reincarnated, I don’t see it for sale in any local locations, but man was Black Cherry ever good!

Another unique feature of The Pop Shoppe were the stubby bottles, like the old stubbies we used to get beer in back in Newfoundland, except clear and with The Pop Shoppe branding painted directly onto the glass.

Once the local one closed up, I still had some bottle laying around and for a time reused them to make Hire’s Root Beer from the little bottles you could buy at the co-op and Mercer’s.  Though I think as many of those exploded as were consumed, but that too was a great pop, and Hire’s, in my mind, while it and Crush were still independent was the best root beer I ever drank.

Playing with your food

For some reason a discussion of yogurt in food reminded me of this old staple, fussel’s cream!  While I loved fresh cream, I can’t say I cared for this back in the day, but maybe I would now. Only problem is I’m not even sure it exists anymore!

But Sunday evening’s supper wasn’t complete for Dad without something sweet, with some cream on top.

Going off on a tangent here, another thing I only recently noticed or paid attention to, after so many years away, is that we Newfoundlanders are the only ones I’ve encountered that call “canned” products “tinned”.  I mentioned at work one day that I had a tin of Pepsi, and they looked at me like I was nuts (well they do that anyway, but this time it was for the tin).

Back on topic, and in relation to the title, there was one aspect of this cream that I did like, that was playing with it to thicken the cream.  I guess over time the cream started to separate, and my “job” was to shake it to help thicken it.  Of course my ideas of shaking may have been rolling it on the floor, using it as a puck in a game of knee floor hockey, and I may even have shaken it occasionally!

Anyway, another memory I thought I’d share, now to go find some partridge berry tart and cream!